Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President

The enormity of the shift that occurred last night is still sinking in. Feeling the spirit of millions that have been moved and are primed to tap into vision and get behind this new leader was certainly profound. Ironically, it wasn’t until I saw a man in a live TV shot last night whom I’ve had zero affinity for in the past — the Reverend Jesse Jackson — shedding tears in Chicago’s Grant Park in the midst of tens of thousands of others, did it sink in how amazing this was for the African-American community.

Not that I’ve been unaware of Obama’s black 50%, but it’s been totally irrelevant since I, like more of us than ever before, realize that we’re all connected and in this together. What’s mattered to me is his vision, my belief in his intention for change, his certain inclusion of everyone, a refreshing intelligence, and the world-class thought leaders he’s already brought close to him as he crafts strategy.

What will be hyper-analyzed over the next several months, however, is that the Obama campaign leveraged the internet, tapped into the social media zeitgeist, and engaged with people in ways never before possible (and because so many of us are already connected with social media), and there are key lessons here for every company, organization, movement or individual wanting to sell, build brands, move an agenda forward, or build an ecosystem.

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iTunes & The Paradox of iPhone App Choice

In a book that I read two years ago, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychology professor Barry Schwartz’ premise is that in today’s producing and consuming world, too many choices do the opposite of what you might think (that a staggering array of choices in every category would actually meet everyone’s needs and increase consumption) but rather that too many choices created a paralysis in people about making a decision and decreased consumption! (You can watch him explain the essence of his premise in this 19 minute July 2005 TED video).

In this post at GigaOM, 7 Real Reasons Why iPhone is a Smash Hit, Om Malik mentions this statistic (in bold) which I wasn’t aware of, “Apple says that in 102 days since the iPhone Apps store opened, nearly 200 million iPhone apps have been downloaded. There are about 5,500 apps available on the iPhone Apps store.

Sigh….5,500! I get weary even thinking about trying to sift through that many applications!

My personal paradox (and a problem experienced by developers I know as they try to sell their apps), when I’m seeking an app in the Photography category, for example, it isn’t the information presented for me to determine the value of the 114 iPhone apps available in that category, but rather it’s the laborious and time consuming way I have to click through iTunes and view each one, trying to make a decision about buying it by looking at a few screenshots or jumping out to the developer website in order to get more info.

After my initial enthusiasm with the explosion of apps for the iPhone and buying a bunch and downloading numerous free ones, I’ve found myself paralyzed with the volume of apps. But it’s the crappy and sloooow shopping experience (whether it’s in the somewhat slow iTunes browsing or the horrendously slow App Store browsing on the iPhone itself) that’s my biggest issue so guess what? My purchasing of apps has slowed way, way down (as has my browsing for and downloading free apps).

Apple’s iTunes shopping experience is pretty bad overall, whether it’s buying music, movies, TV shows or iPhone apps, or the one that has agitated me for a couple of years, subscribing to free podcasts (and with ~25,000 of them, finding good or new ones is too daunting to bother). There is just too much content and it’s too difficult and time consuming to make a choice.

Time to overhaul iTunes, Apple, and give us a Genius on steroids for iPhone apps.

Moodle Makes Its Mark

Today’s accelerating adoption of open source software (OSS), and the shift from desktop to web applications increasingly built on top of OSS, is being embraced by individuals, the non-profit sector, small, midsize, and even enterprise businesses.

As more of us get connected via the internet and through web applications, seek ways to make our collaboration more powerful, shift our old serial and linear processes to ones that are parallel and associative, OSS is a key building block of internet and web technologies and applications. OSS is also gaining momentum globally and affecting all industries and institutions, even educational ones.

That said, educational institutions often lag the private sector in adopting new technologies until proven, especially the Kindergarten through senior high school (K-12) levels. K-12 is often seen as risk-averse and needing clarity about the efficacy and pedagogy of using any particular technology. It must be proven and the benefits to learning and student achievement crystal clear before any technology is implemented, especially OSS.

On the flip side, higher education is a hotbed of OSS use and many projects have origins in colleges and universities. One could argue that our public institutions taking risks, researching new possibilities, and pushing against the membrane of the future is at least as important as their educational mission and has contributed code and thought leadership in OSS.

Though I’ve been aware of the OSS learning management system called “Moodle” (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) for some time, I was both delighted at what I discovered at the U of MN and surprised (stunned might be the better word) by its adoption within Eden Prairie schools where my son attends high school.

There are lessons in this story for all of us about how two very different educational organizations recognized that collaboration, human connection, and the move to parallel and associative learning is at the core of education going forward, and took calculated risk with the OSS Moodle to meet new needs.

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Will Comcast crush internet innovation?

If you’ve been following the story about net neutrality, Comcast’s games with bandwidth throttling and the FCC rebuke of these practices, then you’ll really want to know about Comcast’s decision to place a 250GB per month ‘cap’ on your use of bandwidth.

My favorite blog that discusses this issue, Om Malik’s GigaOM, had these two posts that are a must-read if you care at all about this issue:

a) 5 Questions About Comcast’s New Bandwidth Throttling Plan by Stacey Higginbotham

b) Memo To Comcast: Show Us the Meter for Metered Broadband by Om Malik

While I completely understand that Comcast has a business to run, shareholders to please and profits to make, it is also crystal clear to even a casual observer that they now hold too much power in residential broadband.  Read More

Social Publishing Systems: What about We, the Participants?

We’re living in a time of the greatest shift in human (and machine) connection and communication any of us over 30 years old will experience in our lifetimes. Social media is proliferating, networks of people exploding, self-publishing, microblogging and new communications channels like Twitter emerging, and for the most part, the enterprise isn’t playing in most of these areas.

As a former content management systems (CMS) guy (was with Vignette during the dotcom heyday), I’m in an interesting spot between grassroots social media use by individuals, non-profits and small business and my enterprise clients trying to determine how to play in this shifting landscape. These clients are trying to figure out how to engage all of us connecting and communicating, and just finding more efficient ways of publishing content with a CMS or portal isn’t cutting it.

Social publishing systems are needed.

This morning I read Jeremiah Owyang (Sr Analyst at Forrester Research: Social Computing) who had this post entitled, “Social Software: Here Come The CMS Vendors.” He begins by discussing his oft-repeated theme of the volume of white label social networking providers, and ends with a premise about the major CMS vendors, “I’ve started to notice more of the ‘traditional’ CMS and Portal players that already have deep footprints into the corporate web teams that are inching into this space.

What are the trends, what are CMS vendors likely to do and what should be offered?

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TapeDeck: Easy Audio Recording on Mac OS X Leopard

Nearly every day, I come across something someone has created that I find delightful and useful. Today was no exception as I read DaringFireball, a blog I follow, and was led astray by a link that simply said this:

The Road to TapeDeck 1.0

Chris Liscio on the development of TapeDeck.

Intrigued, I followed that link, read the post, downloaded the application, and was instantly aware that they’d done what so many developers struggle with: cut to the core essence of what an application needs to do and deliver just that.

As we all know too well, Apple has mastered this and famously leaves out many, many features usually packed into applications, operating systems or — in the best example to date — from a smartphone. Rather than try to boil-the-ocean, Apple takes a thimble full of seawater, puts a candle under it, and it’s boiling in no time since the mass market demands ease-of-use with those “ahh…that’s just right” set of features and functions that don’t overwhelm the user.

I’ve added the video below to whet your appetite for TapeDeck and encourage you to go download (and maybe buy) this fun application:


Minnov8: Showcasing Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology

If you’re out in the Bay area or on the other coast in New York or Boston, it’s pretty easy to be smug about your culture of risk-taking, pool of top talent, and strings of successful, world-changing innovations. But as the world continues its acceleration to one that’s increasingly connected and ways of collaborating make distance irrelevant, smart people will pop up everywhere and I’m convinced we’ll see a flattening of the geographic advantages these pockets of innovation represent.

Six of us were bugged that there was so much going on in Internet and Web technology innovation right here in Minnesota, that when I suggested we start our own blog to showcase that innovation, there were nods of agreement and a willingness to dive in and make it real.

The biggest reason we were all interested in this blog is that these showcases and interviews are what we wanted to read and there wasn’t anything like it out there.

The result is Minnov8: Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology. This past weekend was the biggest Barcamp yet, Minnebar, and over 400 people showed up to present, learn and participate. Rather than recreate everything on this blog, why not take a peek at Minnov8? This and this post are ones that will recap what took place.

Wherever you live and whatever space you care about (e.g., technology, education, greentech, etc.) and where there are a critical mass of people willing to leap in and work together as multiple authors, I’d encourage you to start one of these…it’s pretty simple to do and fun to boot.

Virtual Communications: Using Lessons Learned Elsewhere

Moviemakers of the suspense, horror and drama genres learned long ago that in order to build tension in the audience, slowly lowering the sound makes moviegoers start to strain to hear the dialogue (and yes, music and other sound is added to build to a crescendo). Tension builds, the muscles in the bodies of the audience tighten, they begin to lean forward slightly and THE HAND FLIES INTO THE SCREEN, GRABS OUR HERO AND THE AUDIENCE JUMPS IN THEIR SEATS SCREAMING!

Works every time.

Now take a technology we’ve used for a long time — conference calling on the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) — and realize that people calling in on a variety of devices (headsets, cell phones, office phones) add noise and the telephone system (and conference bridge) sample at only a measly 8khz. The result? Tension builds, our muscles tighten and we actually shift our attention (you know who you are….you surfin’ the web folks when you’re supposed to be listening to us on the call!) and the quality of the conference and what we’re trying to communicate to one another suffers.

Let’s look at Skype and how using it decreases tension and increases the quality. Sampling at 16khz means the quality is substantially higher than POTS and is so good that you can hear people breathe, move something on their desk or even click their mouse. The “resolution” of the audio is much higher and thus the call quality is better. The result? Lower tension (or none at all), the callers are relaxed and the communication is higher. Thankfully there are emerging conference bridges that can handle call-ins via Skype and sample at 16khz to maintain call quality (e.g., HighSpeedConferencing).

Let’s take this one step further to other forms of social media: Imagine you hosted a party and when your guests arrived, no one greeted them at the door, clusters of people were broken up into little cliques ignoring them, and as you glanced over at them in the doorway thought, “They’re on their own and are just going to have to figure out how to participate.

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The Hybrid/RIA War: Adobe’s Open Screen Project

Today’s announcement by Adobe of the Open Screen Project has been well covered in the blogosphere. What hasn’t been well covered is the story-behind-the-story and that this is a major salvo in the hybrid application war.

I’ve written before about the rich, internet application (RIA) space (here, here and here for example) and the momentum being built behind the tools, approaches and delivery containers with content, data and functionality mashed up and delivered in a hybrid manner.

As the world is increasingly connected and broadband/wireless speeds increase (and device types proliferate with internet connectivity), the demand for more and more functionality integrating the desktop and the internet is accelerating and the major vendors (and open source ones) are trying to figure out how to empower us to create and deliver new digital assets that customers will value and buy.

What isn’t discussed much is the now primarily covert ‘war’ underway between Adobe with Flash (and AIR, Media Player, et al), Microsoft with Silverlight, Apple with WebKit (though little has been intimated publicly on what they might do in the RIA space or how they might leverage the stealth Quicktime installs on Windows with iTunes and the recent Safari Windows release) and Mozilla’s Prism. All are focused on how to provide a winning environment upon and within which content creators, developers and strategists can deliver ever higher value and create competitive advantage for they and their companies. Whoever pulls that off will win.

Four very different approaches, market positioning, tools to create and develop, and overall go-to-market plans (most of which an outsider can only guess at) but the promise of RIA’s is huge for applications and for us, whether we want to create-n-deliver or just enjoy the fruits of the labors of others: replacement for current web apps; completely new categories; and even one area we’re already exploring in my company, a new type of subscription/self-updating ebook that RSS feeds, video and audio automagically appear within when a subscriber opens it and is connected to the ‘net.

Who will win? I don’t know yet but the winner will be the one with the best tools, the largest runtime container distribution, and the most support from the ecosystem surrounding them. The momentum is with Adobe but, then again, it was with Apple in 1980 at the dawn of the personal computing industry, and we know how that turned out.